BROOKLINE, Mass. — Matthew NeSmith stares out at the scoreboard about 50 yards ahead on the par-3 16th. They take pictures of these kinds of scenes. The skies are gray. The trees are blowing. He looks deep, deep, deep in his thoughts. It’s his album cover.
Is he thinking of where he was playing? It’s U.S. Open Saturday. That’s heavy stuff. He’s played in only one of these before this week. Or is he thinking of where he is, period? At The — cap the ‘T’ there, please — Country Club. That’s historic stuff. Of course, there was the fun fact that at this U.S. Open, at The Country Club, on that leaderboard, he was right there, in the mix.
Nah, man, just staring.
“I’m just kind of blank staring at the leaderboard,” he said Saturday, as he and a reporter walked over to the range here. “I’m so A.D.D. I get lost a little bit.
“But no, it is very cool walking the fairways, playing with a good friend of mine, one; and two, late on a Saturday of a U.S. Open, with the No. 1-ranked player in the world where there’s obviously some hype around and watching him make eagle on 8 and watching everybody go crazy, it was cool.”
The very top of the leaderboard that NeSmith’s head was pointed in the direction of isn’t short of star power. There’s Will Zalatoris and Matthew Fitzpatrick at the top; they were doing battle just a month ago at the last major championship, the PGA. There’s Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy and Sam Burns; they’re as good as they get. Then there’s Mr. NeSmith, a 28-year-old from South Carolina who’s won once, on the Korn Ferry Tour. He’s five back, after a slightly rocky four-over 74 in the third round.
And why should you care about the world’s 166th-ranked player? We’ve brought you this far, so this better be a helluva reason.
Because his swing thought is as refreshing as it is simple as it is blunt. Should you need someone to root for on Sunday, you could do worse than the guy we can maybe all learn a little from.
He’s happy to be there, but it’s so wonderfully more than that.
“My mantra, it’s been, it’s OK to suck,” NeSmith said. “I mean, if I’m going to struggle, that’s totally fine. I’m going to be OK, my wife’s going to love me, I’m still going to have my friends that I’m going to have, I’m still going to go and have dinner with my parents, or have Father’s Day tomorrow. It’s going to be fine.
“Like it’s not enjoyable, it’s not fun to not be good at golf, but it’s what comes with the territory so you better enjoy it and don’t make it all about golf.”
And so it went on Saturday, enjoyably. On 10 tee, NeSmith and Scheffler, his playing partner and another relatively carefree soul, laughed. Walking up 14, they were laughing. On 15, NeSmith was laughing … with a rules official? There was some confusion over which way he should drop from a sprinkler, and, well, that was a hoot.
On 18, with a Country Club course clobbering everyone, it was more of the same. While you don’t have to know what they were talking about — they were trying to remember a Korn Ferry Tour round there, so, no, not the deepest thought — it’s important to know why NeSmith was laughing. In short, he said golf was everything, and he was getting nothing. So he balanced that out.
“Just been getting in my own way,” NeSmith said back in March at the Valspar Championship.. “I’ve done, I’ve been doing everything right. My game’s been great. I’ve really worked on the driver. I’ve really worked on putting it better. I’ve really worked on chipping it better. And I’ve gotten better in all those areas, but I haven’t played any better.
“So at some point in time, that falls on me and that falls on how I act and how I think and how I want to feel. And so I’m done getting in my own way. And if it affects the way I play in a bad way, that’s fine, but I’m done with the anxiety. I’m done with trying to, trying so hard.
“And it’s been working out great the last two days, but it may not work out this weekend. It may work out awesome. I don’t know. But I’m going to keep going that way.”
And that he has.
Even on U.S. Open Sunday?
At The Country Club?
Five shots out of the lead?
Even on U.S. Open Sunday at The Country Club while sitting five shots out of the lead.
“Lot of the same stuff,” he said Saturday night before hitting a few balls on the range. “Just going out there, I know I can be successful out here, but with the same mindset. I enjoyed today. Even though I didn’t play my best golf, I enjoyed today. I grinded my tail off and I tried as hard as I could.
“But I had a good time.”